General semantics

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General semantics is concerned with how events translate to perceptions, how they are further modified by the names and labels we apply to them, and how we might gain a measure of control over our own cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses. Proponents characterize general semantics as an antidote to certain kinds of delusional thought patterns in which incomplete and possibly warped mental constructs are projected onto the world and treated as reality itself. After partial launches under the names human engineering and humanology,[1] Polish-American originator Alfred Korzybski[2] (1879–1950) fully launched the program as general semantics in 1933 with the publication of Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics.

In Science and Sanity, general semantics is presented as both a theoretical and a practical system whose adoption can reliably alter human behavior in the direction of greater sanity. In the 1947 preface to the third edition of Science and Sanity, Korzybski wrote: "We need not blind ourselves with the old dogma that 'human nature cannot be changed', for we find that it can be changed."[3] While Korzybski considered his program to be empirically based and to strictly follow the scientific method, general semantics has been described as veering into the domain of pseudoscience.[4]

Starting around 1940, university English professor S. I. Hayakawa (1906–1992), speech professor Wendell Johnson, speech professor Irving J. Lee, and others assembled elements of general semantics into a package suitable for incorporation into mainstream communications curricula. The Institute of General Semantics, which Korzybski and co-workers founded in 1938,[5] continues today. General semantics as a movement has waned considerably since the 1950s, although many of its ideas live on in other movements, such as media literacy,[6] neuro-linguistic programming[7][8] and rational emotive behavior therapy.[9]